White House: Police Body Cameras Could Change Behaviors, Build Trust

| by Kathryn Schroeder

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the use of body cameras could have a positive impact in building trust between law enforcements officers and the communities they serve, while also prompting a change in the behavior of officers and civilians.

Earnest’s statement was made during his daily press briefing that included a discussion of the North Charleston, South Carolina, fatal shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager. Scott was unarmed and running away when he was shot eight times by Slager.

Slager was nearly cleared of all wrongdoing in the shooting until a video surfaced showing him planting a Taser near Scott’s body after he shot him, reports Huffington Post. Slager had reported to dispatch that Scott stole his Taser.

Slager was fired and charged with murder, as we previously reported. An investigation is underway by the FBI.

Before the video surfaced, information on the events of the shooting were gathered from police, the attorney for the officer, so-called witnesses, and police statements. Much of the information has proven to be false.

Earnest thinks the video evidence has made a huge difference in Scott’s case.

"I think even the investigators themselves have acknowledged that when this video evidence was presented, it changed the way that they were looking at this case," Earnest said. "I do think that is an example of how body cameras worn by police officers could have a positive impact, in terms of building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve."

Earnest referred to two studies on body cameras. One, conducted in Rialto, California, found that officers who did not wear body cameras were twice as likely to use force than those who were wearing a camera. The other study mentioned, conducted in Mesa, Arizona, suggests that 65 percent fewer complaints were made against officers who wore body cameras.

Earnest sees social science in the case of body cameras as indicative of how officers conduct themselves in certain situations.

“…I think at least some of the social science here indicates that there might be a difference in the way that police officers confront these kinds of situations if they know they are being filmed,” Earnest said. “And if they’re wearing body camera, then they obviously know that their interaction is being filmed.”

Earnest continued to point out that the wearing of a body camera can also enhance the safety of law enforcement officers themselves, as it can influence how individuals interact with an officer if they know they are being filmed.

The wearing of a body camera by law enforcement officers indicates some difference could be made, Earnest said, but it is not going to solve the greater problem.

“…I don’t think there’s anybody who is suggesting that having police officers -- every police officer wear a body camera would entirely solve the problem,” Earnest said. “Nobody is making that case. The President doesn’t believe that.”

President Obama proposed a spending package in December with $75 million to help pay for 50,000 body cameras that would record police officers as they work. State and local governments would pay half the cost.

At this time, Earnest does not know how much of those funds have been distributed.

North Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor Keith Summey said Wednesday that every uniformed officer on patrol will get a body camera, reports Voice of America. The city had already ordered 101 cameras, and is ordering 150 more following the shooting. 

Sources: Huffington Post, Opposing Views, Voice of America, WhiteHouse.gov

Photo Source: ABC News 4